South Africa’s power utility Eskom is considering building NPPs in the Witbank area to use existing infrastructure as it phases out 34,000MWe of old coal-fired power over the next decades, Eskom’s chief nuclear officer, Dave Nicholls, said on 29 March. The Department of Energy has delegated the task of nuclear procurement to Eskom, which will be the owner and operator of any new NPPs. The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010 includes planned to procure 9,600MWe of new nuclear power. The updated IRP 2016, now under discussion, envisages adding 20,385MWe of nuclear power by 2050, equivalent to about one-third of the total generation mix.

Nicholls told the Nuclear Africa conference in Centurion that the first four units of the new nuclear build programme would be at Thyspunt. Another unit was likely to be placed at Duynefontein in the Western Cape where Koeberg power station is located. The next priority area for nuclear, as old coal-fired power was taken off-line, would be somewhere in KwaZulu-Natal, which depended for most of its power on the Witbank coal fleet. No detailed work has yet been done on a site in KwaZulu-Natal, he said.

Eskom hoped that the department of environmental affairs would approve its environmental plan for Thyspunt by May or June. He said the intention was to select a single nuclear vendor to avoid delays and technical problems in matching different technologies. The request for information (RFI) was issued in December and the request for proposals would be issued by the middle of 2017. The 38 companies that responded included major nuclear vendors from China (SNPTC), France (EDF), Russia (Rusatom Overseas) and South Korea (Kepco). By early 2018 the preferred bidder should have been selected and negotiations would begin on a contract, which was likely to be signed by 2018-19.

The cost of nuclear power depended on which vendor and technology was selected and the cost of capital, since 70% of the cost of nuclear power was capital and the remainder was operating and fuel. Nicholls said studies that showed the cost of nuclear power was considerably higher than that of renewable power ignored Eskom’s huge investment to strengthen the grid in the Northern Cape to take renewable power from independent power producers, as well as the fact that renewable power could not be switched on and off to follow demand.

Nuclear power stations could be modified to cycle up or down although Eskom did not consider it necessary with Koeberg as its fuel cost was the lowest in the fleet, Nicholls said. The National Union of Mineworkers, which has demonstrated against the loss of jobs around Witbank as the first four coal-fired power stations are due to close, said it was not convinced that renewable energy was the best option and feared that the high cost of renewable energy would bankrupt Eskom.

Nicholls said Eskom’s intention in nuclear procurement was to achieve the lowest credible cost with the highest possible local content, partly to protect against exchange rate fluctuations. Eskom would insist that vendors quote on a machine currently under construction that was close to Eskom’s specifications and the vendor would be required to lead construction for the early units.